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At Last, Jonathan Risks Visit to Borno, Yobe Today

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Date: 7th, MARCH, 2013


In June last year, a suicide bomber drove from Maiduguri towards Damaturu. While traversing the expanse of land, some vigilant soldiers who saw him had a hunch that he was a suspicious character. They trailed him as he drove via the bye-pass into the Yobe State capital, through Gashua Road. As he approached an Oando filling station, a couple of metres from the emir’s palace, they attempted to block him, with the intent to find out who he was and what his mission was. He reacted in an unexpected, bloodcurdling manner. He detonated the IED in the car.

The explosion massively shook the vicinity. Nine of the soldiers on his trail were killed instantly. A nearby house facing the road was also shaken and part of it shattered. A mini-crater on the main road, that still slightly jolt passing cars, is one of the telltale signs of Raphael Israeli’s act, dubbed Islamikaze, an act of martyrdom akin to Japanese’s kamikaze.

This was the security condition in Damaturu last year. For upwards of about five-kilometre radius from the epicentre of the scene of the said violence, the adherents of the Jama’atul Ahlus Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad, otherwise known as Boko Haram, reigned supreme. From Gwange to Ajari near the palace of the Emir of Damaturu, Alhaji Shehu Hashimi II Ibn Umar El-Kanemi, the insurgents scared the living daylight out of the residents.

It was so much that residents, even further afield in the vast Shagari Low Cost Housing Estate, too evacuated their homes. But don’t blame them. Even their leader did same. The mere mortals simply followed the example of the emir, who abandoned the comfort of his seat of power to relocate to an unknown location.

All these happened because the Islamist insurgents had seized control of that strategically important part of town. It became a no-go area for security agents and all manners of people who do not conform to their dictates. Fierce looking, gun-wielding young men manned road blocks, as their peers, including women, stood by the roadside flagellating long horse whips with which they flog women and men whose dress code they deem offensive to Islamic standard.

On the outskirt of the town, in Nasarawa suburb, Imam Abubakar Shekau presided over his suzerainty that spreads across some northern states. His village, where strangers are afraid to visit, which he also bears as his suffix, is about 60 kilometres from where his command post was. The bungalow that housed him and some of his followers, since demolished by security agents, was the engine room of the group. Shekau was forced to flee when President Goodluck Jonathan ordered a massive manhunt for him and his foot soldiers.

Today, the Gwange-Ajari enclave of the insurgents is now calm, although several checkpoints dot the landscape while human and vehicular movement is low. Across the town, heavy security presence, THISDAY observed, is a daily occurrence. Detachments of joint military-police patrol units move around in convoys, combing the nooks and crannies of the town for the sectarians. Motorists on approaching any of such checkpoints, cannot receive or make telephone calls.

This is the situation as Jonathan comes into town today on a state visit;   the first since he was sworn in. For months, presidential aides and perhaps the intelligence community did not see any rationale for the president’s visit. Indeed, it got to a point where the president had to explain during his last media chat that his absence was because the Maiduguri airport, inaugurated in 1988 by the then Head of State, the late Gen. Sani Abacha, was not in good shape. 

The visit, already made controversial because of a similar one by 11 opposition governors under the aegis of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who were in Maiduguri last Thursday, is seen as an attempt to score cheap political points.

Presidential aide, Dr Doyin Okupe, had described the governors’ visit as ‘reckless’ and ‘opportunistic.’. 
But the opposition political parties see the president’s visit as a sign that Jonathan lacks any initiative of his own. 

Whatever the arguments are concerning today’s visit, one thing is clear: the two states Jonathan is visiting today are still under the siege of both the terrorists and the security operatives. The people are scared. In Damaturu, for instance, there is a curfew from 9pm. But as early as 6 pm, people start to head home for fear of the unknown.

A source told THISDAY that the Boko Haram adherents, who had been flushed through the assistance of the people who gave useful information to security agents, had sworn to re-enter the state capital and re-enact their regime of terror.

“There will be no peace here since the people have decided to work against us and support the government. We understand that the government in partnership with traditional rulers have established a routine of documenting returnees to Damaturu. This will not deter us in any way. Already, we have our people back in the town. At the appropriate time, we will bare our fangs again,” the source close to the adherents said. It was gathered that more than 100 of such adherents are already in Damaturu.

Based on this fear, anxiety has heightened. Government offices are under constant surveillance, the streets are not safe, businesses have been crippled and nobody is secured. 
This is not the focus of Jonathan’s visit. He is worried about the intelligence he has been getting about the possible escalation of violence at an unknown date and time. He wants to meet the governors, politicians, traditional rulers and stakeholders generally to seek ways of tackling this problem for the last time.

Unlike Maiduguri, where many of the citizens are aware that the president will be their guest, in Damaturu, little is known about the visit. Actually, the state Governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Gaidam, just got into town Wednesday from Saudi Arabia where he had gone for the lesser hajj.

Article Credit: The Thisday News

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